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Most scams, such as sub-prime mortgages and email scams, victimize adults. But custody scams victimize children. When government fails to protect children it throws open the doors to private contractors—lawyers and clinicians—who enrich themselves at the expense of children. (More about this child and the mother who tried to protect her appears below.)

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Who will protect children against parents who prey on them?

Click on the title above for the original story in the Tampa Tribune.

Child porn's dirty secret: Dads often behind lens


Published: July 5, 2009


National Center for Missing & Exploited Children website
TAMPA - He told his young daughter he was going to make her a model.

He shot pictures of her in skimpier and skimpier outfits.

And when she slept, the Tampa man photographed himself molesting her.

He created a Web site, charging strangers to view graphic photos of his daughter. Pedophiles could write in and say what they wanted to see her wearing.

The man was discovered when investigators searching his child-pornography collection noticed that sheets in some of the pictures matched the sheets on his bed.

They also saw explicit pictures of a young girl being molested. Investigators recognized her from family pictures.

The case was not unusual, authorities say.

That's because when children are victims of pornography, the photographers and abusers often are their fathers, stepfathers and grandfathers.

"Some of the darkest stuff you see is produced in people's basements," said Stacy Arruda, who supervises the Tampa FBI's computer crimes unit. "The most common that we see in this area ... is parents and stepparents abusing their own children."

Nearly twice as many children in a nationwide child-porn database were photographed by their parents as were victims of online enticement. The number victimized by parents was nearly seven times that of children exploited by strangers.

There was the case of a Tampa man traced by a Pennsylvania state trooper investigating child pornography on the Internet. When investigators searched his home, the man's 12-year-old daughter was there. Later, as agents reviewed pornographic images on the man's computer, there she was posed on a bed when she was 7.

'Our secret'

Several years ago, prosecutors say, the parents of a 14-year-old girl established a Web site with graphic photos of their daughter. The mother bought the girl provocative clothing; the father took the pictures and molested her. When investigators searched the Tampa-area home, the girl's closet was full of garter belts, stockings and platform shoes.

Then there was the man who took pornographic pictures of his 9-year-old great-granddaughter.

"Make a pretty face," he would tell her.

"Don't tell anybody," he would say afterward. "It will be our secret."

The Bradenton man was prosecuted after his great-granddaughter told her grandmother about the photo sessions. Investigators reviewing photographs discovered the man's 7-year-old great-grandson also was a victim.

When investigators asked the girl why she took off her clothes for her great-grandfather, she said it was because you're supposed to do what your grandparents tell you.

These cases are a dirty secret, and not only in families.

Media reports almost always leave out the relationship between perpetrator and victim in order to protect the child's identity. Most media organizations, including The Tampa Tribune, have policies that bar publishing the identities of sexual assault victims, especially children.

For that reason, the suspects' names also are being withheld in this story.

"Most people would not suspect that a girl's own father would do it," said Assistant U.S. Attorney Colleen Murphy-Davis, who prosecutes such cases.

"It's really shocking," said another Tampa federal prosecutor, Amanda Kaiser. "When you first start, you think, 'How could parents do that? How could they sell their children?' ... It's just sickening."

Some fathers are seeking financial gain, Kaiser said. Others want sexual gratification.

"I think they're sociopaths," she said. "I don't think they have any conscience. I think they lack empathy, and to them, children are just a commodity to be used."

Since Arruda began her job 31/2 years ago, she estimates the office has investigated about 100 such cases. Technology costs are falling, making exploitation easier.

"Anybody with a digital camera can take pictures of whatever they want," she said.

Sometimes male relatives trade photographs with other pedophiles online, Arruda said.

Fathers can get away with being abusers because they can exploit the bond of trust, authorities say. They groom their children to accept what is happening and have the leverage to keep them quiet.

Sometimes, the mothers know.

"You've got one of two situations," Murphy-Davis said. "The mother knows about it, so they figure it's fruitless to tell mom, or they've told her in the past and she's like, 'You're lying.' Or there's just too much shame with going to the mother and saying, 'This is what the man you love is doing to me.'"

Sometimes, the mother supports the abusing father at the expense of the child. One Tampa mother wanted to kick her teenage daughter out of the house and make her live with her grandmother so the father could remain there while his case was pending. The judge was so disgusted he ordered the father jailed. The mother's letter in her husband's defense angered the sentencing judge.

Prison sentences

The charge of producing child pornography carries a prison sentence of up to 30 years; possessing child porn carries up to 10 years; and transporting or shipping child porn brings a minimum mandatory sentence of five years and as long as 20 years.

The Tampa man who created a Web site with graphic photos of his daughter pleaded guilty to all three of those charges and was sentenced to 45 years in federal prison.

"What law enforcement tends to be seeing is that the children who are being used to produce these images are kids being abused in bedrooms and basements and living rooms across the United States and elsewhere," said Michelle Collins, executive director of the Exploited Child Division of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The division is a clearinghouse for law enforcement to share information when children depicted in pornography are identified. Collins said this helps prevent defendants from arguing that the children in their pornography collections aren't real.

Since the program started in 2003, more than 2,300 children have been identified in pornographic pictures and videos, Collins said.

Of those, 27 percent were photographed by parents or stepparents; 24 percent by neighbors or close family friends; and 10 percent by other relatives.

Just 4 percent were photographed by strangers. The rest were photographed by coaches, babysitters, their parents' boyfriends and girlfriends, or by themselves, often after being enticed by someone they met online.

"The individuals who sexually molest are most likely to molest children who they're a trusted adult toward," Collins said. "That's why there is such a low disclosure rate of children who are abused."

Reporter Elaine Silvestrini can be reached at (813) 259-7837.

About the mother and child pictured at the top

On February 21, 1992, Rhode Island Family Court's Chief Judge Jeremiah Jeremiah gave this two-year-old to the sole custody and possession of her father despite his history of domestic violence and failure to pay child support. The father, a police officer, brought false charges against his ex-wife, first saying she was a drug addict. (Twenty-two random tests proved she was not.) Then he had her arrested for bank fraud, then for filing a false report, then for sexual abuse, then for kidnapping. None of his charges stuck.

The child remained with her father and stepmother until 2003, when, at 14, she finally realized that her mother had not been a drug addict. The teenager persuaded Judge Stephen Capineri to let her return to her mother. There she began working on the painful issues of lifelong coercion and deception--a tangled knot of guilt and rage. Most painful has been her father’s continuing refusal to let her visit two dearly loved half-sisters, whom she has not seen since 2003.

She is one of countless children in Rhode Island subjected to severe emotional and physical trauma by Family Court when it helps abusive parents to maintain control over their families after divorce. When she turned 18 in 2007, she gave the Parenting Project permission to publish her picture on behalf of all children who have been held hostage by Rhode Island custody scams.

We are using this blog to provide links to stories that will help concerned people, including government officials, become aware of this form of child abuse and legal abuse. We must work together to improve the courts' ability to recognize the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims of domestic abuse who are trying to protect their children.

PLEASE NOTE: If you are looking for the story of the removal of "Molly and Sara," please visit

About the Author and the Cause

Parenting Project is a volunteer community service begun in 1996 at Mathewson Street United Methodist Church, Providence, RI, to focus on the needs of children at risk in Family Court custody cases. Our goal is to make Rhode Island's child protective system more effective, transparent, and accountable.

The Parenting Project coordinator, Anne Grant, a retired minister and former executive director of Rhode Island's largest shelter for battered women and their children, researches and writes about official actions that endanger children and the parents who try to protect them. She wrote a chapter on Rhode Island in Domestic Violence, Abuse, and Child Custody: Legal Strategies and Policy Issues, ed. Mo Therese Hannah, PhD, and Barry Goldstein, JD (Civic Research Institute, 2010).

Comments and corrections on anything written here may be sent in an email with no attachments to

Find out more about the crisis in custody courts here: provides forensic resources to end violence against women

about domestic violence in hague custody cases:

more about domestic violence in law enforcement: